Die Meistersinger is a problematic opera, particularly for Bayreuth. It has rather disturbing elements of German nationalism and a performance tradition at the festival of those being used for ends that most people would rather be able to forget. No surprise then that Katharina Wagner’s production, recorded in 2008, tries to deal with both. It’s a bold effort. Like Robert Carsen’s Tannhäuser it tries to use visual art as a metaphor for music and art in general.
Here, Walther von Stolzing is a sort of hippy painter who is more than ready to splash paint around in a way that shocks the good burgers. Hans Sachs is sympathetic to his iconoclasm. Sachs is a sort of aging hippy. Beckmesser is the pedantic burger who sticks by the rules but when anarchy breaks out at the end of Act 2 everyone shifts position. Sachs reverts to the rules and brings Walther along with him to win the prize; Eva of course, in a rather conventional way while Beckmesser shows shocking disregard for the proprieties and is rejected.
Here’s the rub. KW can stage the piece with all kinds of weird elements, including Hans Sachs incinerating the production team and the German artistic pantheon dancing as a can-can line, but we still have heilige Deutsche Kunst and a commoditized woman as competition prize. It’s as difficult to find a redeeming feature here as it is in, say, Madama Butterfly, and the director can’t quite pull off a coherent reinterpretation. Full marks for trying though!
Musically it’s OK. Klaus Florian Vogt is a wonderful Walther. His singing is definitely one of the productions highlights. Franz Hawlata is a dramatically convincing Sachs but vocally challenged. Michael Volle is first rate as Beckmesser, both dramatically and vocally. Michaela Kaune, as Eva, is a bit mixed. Sometimes she’s fine, sometimes she sounds quite strained. Sebastian Weigle is OK in the pit but hardly sets the world alight.
This is a very busy production and also quite dark so very hard to film. Video director Andreas Morell does OK but there are places where it’s very confusing. On Blu-ray at least one can see what is filmed. I worry about what this looks like on DVD because Blu-ray is barely adequate picturewise. The DTS-HD sound though is full and spacious and generally satisfactory.
There’s a half hour “making of” bonus on the disc. It’s not especially revelatory and I could have used more explanation of what the production team was trying to do. It’s actually more informative about how the video was shot; the first “live” recording at Bayreuth. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Spanish.